I’m a sucker for some good ol’ fashioned cyberpunk thrillers. I just adore the aesthetic more than anything. No matter what Cyberpunk game you play, or movie you watch, one thing will always remain consistent: the city. That seems like an odd statement to make but just give me an opportunity to prove this. While every city may have some visual distinction’s in it’s own respective universe, it is almost undeniable to say that every Cyberpunk city is cramped. Any level of the original Deus Ex or of Human Revolution exudes this feeling of helplessness, a cog in the machine mentality. In this franchise you’re incapable of feeling larger than life, of attaining the particular feeling that one man can do it all because the literal design of the city doesn’t allow you to grow. It doesn’t allow anyone to grow really. The general rule of thumb being that if you can see over the city than chances are you’re living a pretty damn good life. I think Syndicate handled that representation the best in it’s opening cinematic. It showed the entire bottom part of a graph (i.e. millions of people) dropping out of the grid because they weren’t capable of purchasing chips. The city grew around these people, consuming them and their families wholesale. Blade Runner is considered the mac daddy of all Cyberpunk for it’s striking visual style. The hard skyscrapers rising into the night as rain dribbles lightly against those who are above the mayhem. Individuals who have removed themselves from the conversation and have quite literally ascended above trivial squabbles (e.g. Eldon Tyrell, David Sarif, etc.). The consistency between the multiple cities lies within their physicality.
Deus Ex, Shadowrun, Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, Syndicate, all of these fascinating tales share an aesthetically similar geological makeup. These cities exist to literally overwhelm the heroes and the citizens. This environment constricts the creation of larger than life heroes. Adam Jensen is a good man but ultimately the depths of corruption and maliciousness were too much for him to continue on as a the voice of wellness. Deckard is ultimately psychologically tormented by the plight of the replicants. No character in a cyberpunk story escapes a unscathed. They have been morally annihilated and that is in large part to the landscape of the world, which physically diminishes the general public from further advancement in the world. The bottom of the social ladder inhabits the lowest parts of the city while the higher class, powerful leaders watch from their ivory tower.
The main idea I wanted to discuss a bit was really the importance of a good city in Cyberpunk. And, in truth, it’s not that difficult to make a good Cyberpunk city since it’s all essentially the same one. As stated above, the polish may be a bit different. Where Blade Runner opts for grimy, Deus Ex (specifically Human Revolution) goes for sleek. Yet, the purpose is still the same, oppression. The city’s need to isolate people. When you enter a Cyberpunk world (in whatever way one does, be it film or video games) the city is meant to feel larger than you. You’re meant to shrink in it’s presence, stand in awe of the human marvels and the decay it brings with it. Look upon the works of the people and feel… conflicted. Cyberpunk is the bleak mirror that is held up against our own world , the cautionary tale of what we can become. And there’s something mysterious and beautiful in that.